Environmental

  

Where to Recycle, A Google Maps Mashup

Over the last two months, we’ve been working on our first Google Map Mashup using the Google Maps API. Our client has given us permission to release the site to solicit feedback. The application is (of course) in “Beta.”

Where to Recycle in Torrance, California allows city residents to easily find recycling centers based on the items they wish to recycle. The concept is simple: the easier it is to recycle, the more recycling will happen.

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We conducted a card sort and worked with the City to try to come up with logical categories for items. In addition, we added a “Find As You Type” search function.

An extensive administrative back-end allows the City to easily update locations and items (see image below). We’ve made extensive use of Ajax for both the front- and back-end of the application, making tasks simpler and improving usablity.

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Where to Recycle will be part of a larger web presence focusing on recycling in the city, to be released in the Fall. In the meantime, please feel free to try out Where to Recycle, we’d appreciate any comments you might have.

  
 
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We're a Climate Neutral Company

Last month we announced that we reduced our carbon emissions by switching our electricity over to 90% wind power. Today, Ideum has taken the final steps and have become completely carbon neutral.

The process was relatively simple and inexpensive. As I mentioned in the last post, switching over to wind power for our electricity costs us an additional $10 a month, and it required a phone call to our electricity provider. To figure out our complete carbon footprint we needed to look at other activities and services that generate carbon dioxide. Here’s what we found and how we calculated our carbon dioxide emissions.

The total amount of carbon that we needed to off-set was 32,052 pounds. We planted 4 trees around the studio which reduced the number by 52 (13lbs each, calculated from figures found on the Colorado Trees website) leaving us with 32,000 lbs of carbon.

Today we purchased, 16 one-Ton “EarthCooler” Blocks from NativeEnergy, a Native American majority-owned company which helps build “Native American, farmer-owned, and charitable purpose renewable energy projects that create social, economic, and environmental benefits.” NativeEnergy helped make Syriana the first major motion picture to be “climate neutral.”

The cost to off-set the carbon we produce was $12 per ton for a total of $192.00 for our 16 tons of carbon dioxide. Our total cost per-year to be carbon-neutral is about $320 a year, less than $1 day to do our part to reduce global warming.

Update: Check out of new page on becoming climate neutral.

  
 
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Chaco Culture on the Solstice

It was an amazing afternoon at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. We saw two performances of Hopi dancers and took quite a few photographs.

We talked with the two leaders of the group, Bertram Tsavadawa and Ruben Saufkie. They are from Second Mesa, one of a number Hopi Villages in eastern Arizona.

Ruben told us about the importance and symbolism of the dances and their impression of Chaco Canyon, a place that they (and other Puebloan people) consider an ancestral homeland.

He also told us about their water crisis and a recent event in which he and Bert participated in. They ran from “Hopi” to Mexico City to raise awareness about the issue.

It was great to spend an afternoon watching the group dance. Here’s a few photographs, we hope to post more tomorrow.

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Ruben Saufkie

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Dancers smile.

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Colorful feathers.
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A young eagle dancer.

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An even younger eagle dancer.

  
 
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Wind Power

As I mentioned in our last post, a review on the book The Weather Makers, Ideum has signed up with our electricity provider to receive 90% (the maximum) of our power from renewable wind. The Weather Makers points out that power plants, coal burning ones especially, contribute significantly to global warming. This was not news to us, as we’ve been involved in helping to stop the development of a coal burning power plant in Nevada.

PNM Wind FarmHere in New Mexico, we have a voluntary program called Sky Blue from our local power company PNM which uses wind energy. The power comes from a wind farm called the New Mexico Wind Energy Center located in the eastern part of the state. Electricity for 94,000 average-sized New Mexico homes is generated at this one farm with 136 turbines. The farm provides about 8% of PNM’s total power to the state. With so much open land, frequently windy conditions, and an average of six days of sunshine out of every seven, one has to wonder why we don’t generate more renewable energy in our state.

Unfortunately, New Mexico still receives a lot of its power from coal. Our state trails only Wyoming, North Dakota, and Indiana in our CO2 emissions per-kilowatt hour at least according to the Department of Energy’s Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program page. Our “emissions factor” is 2.02 lbs of CO2 per-kilowatt hour.

By switching the Ideum studio over to 90% wind power, we are saving 1,212 lbs of CO2 per-month (based on 600kWh), while adding a modest $10 per-month to our electricity bill. We’re happy to pay, to do something to help reduce CO2 emissions (not to mention other forms of pollution).

If you’re interested in finding out about similar programs your state, visit the Department of Energy’s Green Power Markets Program By State web page. To learn more about protecting the Interior West, please check out the Western Resource Advocates website.

  
 
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The Weather Makers

weathermaker.jpgI just finished reading Tim Flannery’s excellent book, The Weather Makers. For those of you not familiar with Tim Flannery he’s a scientist, conservationist, a writer, and is the director of the South Australian Museum. A very busy guy. I read one of his earlier books, the Future Eaters, a number of years ago while in Australia and really enjoyed it.

The Weather Makers outlines the history of climate change focusing on many high-profile weather events such as powerful hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the first South Atlantic hurricane, and the hottest European summer ever recorded. He also looks at the strengthening El Niño weather pattern and warns of that it could become “semi-permanent” bringing increased rainfull across to Peru and southeastern US, with drought like conditions to places like Indonesia and here in the American Southwest.

The science of global warming is presented in an understandable but far from simplistic way, and several possible future scenarios are examined. Most of them are rather depressing and some are quite frightening. But rather than leaving the reader distressed, a passionate call to action closes the book on a high note. Flannery suggests things that all of us can easily do, such as contacting the local power company and signing up for special programs that provide electricity from renewable sources. (The U.S. Department of Energy has a listing of Green Power Markets.) Ideum has signed up for such a program, more on that in another post.

  
 
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NY Governor uses "Alternative Fuels" design

This week we were contacted by Governor Pataki’s office about using graphics Ideum developed with California Science Center for a major speech yesterday. The graphics were developed for an interactive exhibit called Alternative Fuels which is in California Science Center’s Transportation Gallery. The exhibit is one of four that we developed with the museum in 2004.

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Although personally we tend to gravitate to other side of the aisle, it is nice to see our graphics being used for a good cause. The Governor is looking to end “exclusivity” contracts between distributors and service stations that prohibit the sale of renewable fuels in the state. The press release on the Governor’s site explains more.

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Update: I finally got around to posting a picture of the actual exhibit. It uses four pump handles that visitors use answer questions and learn about four alternative fuels. The look we developed for the screens was used by California Science Center for the exhibit graphics as well.

The exhibit displays wide-screen video from DVD. An industrial Pioneer DVD-V7400 is used along with a custom controller (that talks to the RS232C connection), so that the pump handles send commands to the DVD player. The exhibit is in English and Spanish language (Combustibles Alternativos)! The bright push-button to the right of the screen toggles the exhibit from language to language.

  
 
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Earth Observatory and NEO

I just returned from Washington D.C. where I was involved in a series of meetings at the Association of Science-Technology Centers. In one of the meetings, I had an opportunity to meet David Herring from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He helps coordinate NASA’s Earth Observatory website.

Launched in 1998, the Earth Observatory has been one of the best spots on the Internet for learning about our planet’s dynamic systems. The site is nominated (again) for a Webby Award as Best Education Site and deservedly so. (You can vote here.)

The Earth of Observatory has been a source of inspiration, and a model that we’ve looked at in developing sites that utilize actual scientific data. In the past, Ideum has developed sites that present scientific data such as: Solar Max (2001), The Global Climate Change Research Explorer (2003), the Sun-Earth Media Viewer (2004), among others. So, it was great to meet someone else who has worked on sites with a similar focus.

neo.jpgIn the meeting, David previewed NEO, which stand for NASA Earth Observations. The site provides a Flash 8 pan and zoom interface and will eventually provide access to a wealth of full-resolution earth imagery. At the moment, the Ocean section has the most in the way of data-sets. In NEO, the images are available in multiple formats and at the same resolution that NASA scientists use for research. This great for those of us who depend on high-quality, high-resolution images for exhibit development.

The site is beta, a bit rough around the edges, and not publicly linked, but David was nice enough to give us permission to write about it. Along with its beta status, NEO is gathering information through a survey. So if you do check it out, give them a bit of feedback. Ok?

  
 
 
  
  

Nevada coal plant stopped! (For now?)

smokestack.jpgJust last year we designed the Website for the Nevada Clean Energy Coalition. Today’s Reno Gazette-Journal is reporting Sempra to sell interest in Nevada power project. This development was not completely unexpected as we posted a story that Sempra Energy had halted its federally required environmental study earlier in the month.

Sempra is selling the development rights which means another company could step in and continue development. The company spokesman Art Larson…

“We are selling development rights to Granite Fox and for the Idaho project. Whomever buys those development rights will take the projects forward from that point,” Larson said.

However, we’re hopeful that this the last nail in the coffin for this “19th Century” power plant. The article quotes David Rumsey part of the Nevada Clean Energy Coalition…

“They are getting out of the coal business,” said Rumsey, whose home on the Smoke Creek Desert is surrounded by a nature preserve. “I’m hopeful there will not be another power company foolish enough to try to take over the Granite Fox project.”

  
 
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"Reconfiguring" a bad idea

Last year, we designed a site for the Nevada Clean Energy Coalition to assist their efforts to stop the construction of a coal burning power plant. Late last week, we learned in the Reno Gazette Journal that Sempra Energy has halted work on its federally required environmental study.

Sempra spokesman Doug Kline in San Diego said the company is holding back on all of the permits while “reconfiguring the project design, based on talks with potential partners and potential customers.”

Apparently, the potential customers in California have no appetite for “dirty energy” produced by coal burning power plants.

Kline said new regulations coming in California to forbid importing coal-fired power is the biggest reason for changing the plant design. The policy forbids investor-owned utilities from signing long-term contracts for power that pollutes more than natural-gas fired plants.

The article goes on to say that the study has been halted for 3 to 6 months. Personally, we hope this is the end of this project which if built would put tons of toxins into the air, draw billions of gallons of ground water each year (yes, billions), and have a life-span of over fifty years. Wouldn’t it be something if energy companies actually innovated and used some of the viable alternative energies that exist? Shouldn’t America’s energy companies be developing the technologies for the 21st century, rather than using those from the 19th?

While we’re optimistic about this new development, the fight is not over. If you’d like to sign the petition or donate to the Nevada Clean Energy Coalition, please do so.

  
 
 
  
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